Cabaret Capsule: Amy Willard Top: Back to Then

Amy Willard Top

I’m not a big fan of the “This is My Life” school of cabaret that ties everything back to the performer’s biography.  That’s not an artistic judgment, just a personal preference; some very good cabaret acts have come out of that approach.

Amy Willard Top’s cabaret debut “Back to Then” (performed at The Kranzberg Center on April 19 and 20, 2013)  was definitely autobiographical, charting her course from musical theatre professional in New York and on the cruise line circuit to St. Louis mom.  The fact that, my personal preferences not withstanding, I found it mostly quite entertaining and engaging is an indication of what a good job Ms. Willard Top, music director Greg Schweizer, and director Tim Schall did here.

The song selection was nicely varied, including both old and new numbers from the Great American Songbook and the musical stage as well as some pop standards.  Mr. Schweizer’s arrangements fit like a glove and some of them (his jazzy “But Not for Me” comes immediately to mind) shed interesting new light on familiar material.  Pacing and the overall emotional arc of the evening were quite satisfying.

The show did, in short, what a cabaret show should do: provide a showcase for the performer’s talents and present that performer in the most flattering possible light.  Ms. Willard Top came across as a charming performer with a good sense of theatre and a clear, focused voice.

On the technical side, the lighting made good use of the Kranzberg’s limited space and the sound mix was very clean.

Were there some things I would have done differently?  Probably, but most of them are more personal preferences than artistic decisions.  The bottom line is that Back to Before was a very solid cabaret debut by a skilled musical theatre performer.  Whether she goes on to do more cabaret or not, she can take some justifiable pride in this one.